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12 <TITLE>Professional ethics and Information Technology</TITLE>
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21 <H1>Professional ethics and Information Technology</H1>
22
23 <H2>Introduction</H2>
24 <P>
25 This essay discusses the principles of ethics, both in their specific
26 application to the Information Technology profession, and to their
27 more general application to professional disciplines. In particular
28 the Codes of Ethics of the <EM>Australian Computer Society</EM> (ACS),
29 <EM>Association for Computing Machinery</EM> (ACM), and the
30 <EM>Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers</EM> (IEEE) are
31 examined. The <EM>Australian National University</EM> (ANU) code
32 <EM>Academic Honesty in Learning and Teaching</EM> is also examined to
33 highlight similarities between issues raised and those raised by the
34 above-mentioned professional societies. Finally, two real-world
35 scenarios will be presented and discussed within the context of
36 professional ethics.
37 </P>
38
39 <H2>Generic principles</H2>
40 <P>
41 There are a number of generic principles common to the various Codes
42 of Ethics of the professional societies examined. These principles are
43 not necessarily specific to the field of Information Technology, but
44 may relevant to many professional disciplines.
45 </P>
46
47 <P>
48 <DL>
49 <DT><STRONG>Essential moral behaviour</STRONG></DT>
50 <DD>
51 <P>
52 The various Codes of Ethics all contain directives regarding
53 what one could consider basic moral behaviour. Values such as
54 honesty, integrity, are all specifically referred to. Actions
55 must also be in the public or community interest, which means
56 that members of the various societies should take the wider
57 social implications of their actions into consideration.
58 </P>
59
60 <P>
61 This is the core of what makes the Code of Ethics a Code of
62 Ethics. Basic ethical behaviour is defined in ACS Code of
63 Ethics in section 4.1. This section specifically mentions the
64 profession of Information Technology, however there is
65 nothing IT specific in the rest of this item, so it could be
66 interchangeable with the medical profession, for example.
67 </P>
68
69 <P>
70 Similarly, the ACM breaks its Code of Ethics down into three
71 broad categories. The first, General Moral Imperatives, could
72 equally apply to most other professions. The sections
73 relating to intellectual property are vaguely more
74 IT-centric, however are still relevant to other professions
75 that might involve either personal or contracted creativity.
76 </P>
77 </DD>
78
79 <DT><STRONG>Competence</STRONG></DT>
80 <DD>
81 <P>
82 All the Codes of Conduct and Ethics highly value competence.
83 This is important, as incompetent workmanship can have a poor
84 reflection on the profession in general, regardless of what
85 that profession is.
86 </P>
87
88 <P>
89 This is closely related to ongoing professional development,
90 which is discussed next. Competence is an intangible, and as
91 such difficult to gauge in an individual. It is really up to
92 the individual to have some sense of self-assessment when it
93 comes to particular work.
94 </P>
95 </DD>
96
97 <DT><STRONG>Professional Development</STRONG></DT>
98 <DD>
99 <P>
100 For the same reasons as competence, ongoing professional
101 development is of paramount importance. All the societies
102 Codes reviewed specifically mention ongoing personal
103 development, as well as assisting fellow members to further
104 their development.
105 </P>
106
107 <P>
108 This is a significant point of all the Codes of Ethics. There
109 is little value in being a member of such a professional
110 society if it does not encourage its members to further
111 themselves, as professional development is something that
112 should never cease. It is also important to note that the
113 Codes state that members should encourage and support each
114 other in their personal development.
115 </P>
116 </DD>
117
118 <DT><STRONG>Fairness, equality and objectivity</STRONG></DT>
119 <DD>
120 <P>
121 All of the societies Codes examined specifically refer to
122 conducting oneself in an indiscriminate manner. The ACS
123 <EM>Code of Professional Conduct and Professional
124 Practice</EM> states: "Be objective, impartial and free of
125 conflicts of interest in the performance of your professional
126 duties" (ACS: 2003). The ACM specifically states that
127 "equality, tolerance and respect for others are important and
128 that violations of this policy will not be tolerated" (ACM:
129 1992), in their Code of Ethics. The IEEE's Code of Ethics
130 also states that members agree to "treat fairly
131 all persons regardless of such factors as race, religion,
132 gender, disability, age or national origin" (IEEE: 1990).
133 </DD>
134
135 <DT><STRONG>Promotion of the profession</STRONG></DT>
136 <DD>
137 <P>
138 Again, one could substitute the name of the profession for
139 any other, however, the ACS Code of Ethics and Code of
140 Professional Conduct specifically mention promoting and
141 protecting the image, and professionalism of Information
142 Technology and the society in general.
143 </P>
144
145 <P>
146 Naturally, any professional society is going to be an
147 advocacy body for that profession. One would expect to find
148 such promotion clauses in any professional society's Code of
149 Ethics.
150 </P>
151 </DD>
152 </DL>
153
154 <H2>Principles specific to Information Technology</H2>
155 <P>
156 There are a number of other principles stated in the various Codes of
157 Conduct that are more specific to the field of Information Technology,
158 because of the technical nature of the profession, or because they
159 relate to technological ethical issues.
160 </P>
161
162 <P>
163 <DL>
164 <DT><STRONG>Intellectual Property</STRONG></DT>
165 <DD>
166 <P>
167 Whilst not strictly related to Information Technology, this
168 is certainly an issue that crops up more often within this
169 field. The ACM Code of Ethics states that property rights
170 including copyrights and patents should be honoured, and
171 proper credit should be given for intellectual property. The
172 IEEE Code of Ethics states that members should credit
173 properly the contributions of others.
174 </P>
175
176 <P>
177 Interestingly, neither the ACS Code of Ethics or Code of
178 Professional Conduct and Professional Practice makes a
179 reference to "Intellectual Property", but the latter does
180 state that information is the property of the client, and
181 must not be distributed freely. One could argue that this is
182 covered under the section 4.7 of the ACS Code of Ethics
183 (Honesty), whereby section 4.7.6 states "I must give credit
184 for work done by others where credit is
185 due" (ACS: 2003) however, it could be argued successfully
186 that this is not specific enough to the area of intellectual
187 property and copyright, not prescriptive enough about when
188 "credit is due".
189 </DD>
190
191 <DT><STRONG>Authorised access to computing resources</STRONG></DT>
192 <DD>
193 <P>
194 The ACM Code of Conduct specifically mentions "trespassing
195 and unauthorised use of a computer or communication system"
196 (ACM: 1992). It goes on to say that individuals have the
197 right to restrict access insofar as it does not discriminate
198 unethically (as discussed earlier).
199 </P>
200 </DD>
201
202 <DT><STRONG>Evaluating computer systems</STRONG></DT>
203 <DD>
204 <P>
205 The ACM Code of Ethics has section 2.5 of their More Specific
206 Professional Responsibilities, which states members must
207 "give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of
208 computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of
209 possible risks" (ACM: 1992) and goes on to state that
210 computer professionals must be perceptive, thorough and
211 objective when making evaluations, recommendations and
212 presentations of system descriptions and alternatives. This
213 is relevant to the profession of IT, because IT professionals
214 tend to have their technical opinions viewed highly, as they
215 are considered subject-matter experts.
216 </DD>
217 </DL>
218
219 <H2>Similarities to ANU code</H2>
220
221 <P>
222 Whilst having nothing specifically to do with Information Technology,
223 the ANU code on <EM>Academic Honesty in Learning and Teaching</EM> has
224 a common point with those raised in the Codes of Conduct for the
225 various professional societies examined.
226 </P>
227
228 <P>
229 The most significant common point is of course the moral value of
230 being honest. This ANU code of practice defines academic honesty, and
231 also goes on to discuss originality and plagiarism. This is identical
232 in spirit to the intellectual property clause of the Codes of Ethics
233 for the ACM, and the statement of "giving credit where credit is
234 due" by the ACS, and properly crediting the contributions of others
235 in the IEEE's Code of Ethics.
236 </P>
237
238 <P>
239 The ANU code also defines the roles and responsibilities of various
240 levels of academics within the University, similar to how the various
241 societies Codes state that members should assist other members to
242 further themselves to be better members. Similarly, University
243 academics should provide guidance to students in matters of academic
244 honesty.
245 </P>
246
247 <H2>Case studies</H2>
248
249 <P>
250 In conclusion, two case studies will be discussed. The first one is a
251 hypothetical ANU student who attained an IT degree with a lot of
252 assistance from his/her friends, doing a lot of collaboration on
253 assignment work, and getting good marks for them, but average marks
254 for examinations. This student then attains employment somewhere in
255 Canberra.
256 </P>
257
258 <P>
259 The second example is an employee working on an application project. He
260 gets a brilliant idea, outside of the scope of the existing project,
261 that he believes will make an improvement to this application, and
262 other related applications. The contract he has signed states that the
263 work carried out on the project belongs to this organisation he is
264 working for.
265 </P>
266
267 <H3>Case study 1: The average student who had a lot of help from his friends</H3>
268
269 <P>
270 This situation is difficult to monitor, and can potentially cause a
271 lot of problems. The negative consequence of this scenario is that
272 this student has attained an IT degree that isn't necessarily
273 indicative of his/her own abilities. This is most likely going to
274 become evident when the employee is unable to conduct themselves
275 competently in their field of employment. The possible victims of
276 this negative scenario are both the student/employee and the
277 organisation employing him/her.
278 </P>
279
280 <P>
281 Eventually it is going to come to the point where the employee has to
282 gain sufficient competence to carry out his/her employment, or the
283 employer has to cease employing the student, due to their
284 incompetence. This ultimately boils down to misrepresentation, in that
285 the student didn't accurately represent their competence to the
286 employer in the first place.
287 </P>
288
289 <P>
290 The negative repercussions could be more significant depending on the
291 nature of the employment of the student. If the student was engaged in
292 a role that may have a direct impact on the public, this incompetence
293 could, in the worst case, directly impact on other peoples lives.
294 </P>
295
296 <P>
297 The other victim is the ANU, as whilst the student is seen to have
298 exited successfully from one of its degree programs, the student's
299 actual competency is probably lower than the employer would expect for
300 a degree-holder. This then lowers the value of a degree in the
301 employer's view, and gives the potential for employers to hold ANU
302 graduates in lower regard than perhaps they should me.
303 </P>
304
305 <H3>Case study 2: The employee with the work-related brilliant idea</H3>
306
307 <P>
308 In the case of the employee with the brilliant idea, if it is just an
309 idea, the organisation he works for cannot readily claim ownership of
310 it. If the employee develops anything on company time or resources,
311 based on that idea, then it rightly becomes property of the
312 organisation. If this is the case, and the employee wishes to take the
313 idea outside of the organisation, the only ethical thing to do would
314 be to seek permission from the employer to do so. Anything less would
315 constitute theft of the organisation's intellectual property.
316 </P>
317
318 <P>
319 There is nothing stopping the employee from using the idea for
320 improvement within the company he is working for, though. If the idea
321 he has had can be applied to other projects within his organisation,
322 then he is only being dilligent by raising the idea as an enhancement
323 to existing processes.
324 </P>
325
326 <H2>Bibliography</H2>
327
328 <P>
329 ACS Code of Ethics, Australian Computing Society, 2003,
330 http://www.acs.org.au/static/national/pospaper/acs131.htm
331 </P>
332
333 <P>
334 ACS Code of Professional Conduct And Professional Ethics, Australian
335 Computing Society, 2003,
336 http://www.acs.org.au/static/national/pospaper/codeprof.htm
337 </P>
338
339 <P>
340 ACM Code of Ethics, Association for Computing Machinery, 1992,
341 http://www.acm.org/serving/se/code.htm
342 </P>
343
344 <P>
345 IEEE Code of Ethics, Institute of Electrical and Electronic
346 Engineers, 1990,
347 http://www.ieee.org/portal/index.jsp?pageID=corp_level1&amp;path=about/whatis&amp;file=code.xml&amp;xsl=generic.xsl
348 </P>
349
350 <P>
351 Academic Honesty in Learning and Teaching, The Australian National
352 University, 2003,
353 http://info.anu.edu.au/policies/Codes_Of_Practice/Education/Other/Academic_Honesty.asp
354 </P>
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